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Australian Court Finds Smuggler Guilty in Asylum Seeker Deaths

  • Phil Mercer

A court in Australia has found an Iraqi man guilty of planning a people-smuggling operation that resulted in the deaths of 353 asylum seekers. The Siev-X vessel sank on its way to Australia from Indonesia in 2001.

The Siev X, a fishing vessel, was crammed with asylum seekers when it capsized off Indonesia in October 2001. Of the almost 400 people on board - most of them Iraqis - only 44 survived.

Khaleed Daoed, an Iraqi goldsmith, was accused of playing an integral part in the planning of the disastrous journey.

It took a jury in the northern Australian city of Brisbane two days to find him guilty.

Daoed has always denied involvement in the ill-fated voyage. Prosecutors, however, insisted he was the "trusted assistant" of smuggling boss Abu Quassey who charged people hundreds of dollars for a place on the boat.

Quassey was convicted of death through negligence over the Siev X disaster. He is serving seven years in an Egyptian jail.

Daoed is expected to be sentenced at a hearing in Brisbane later this month.

Under Australian law, people smuggling carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in jail.

Refugee campaigners are demanding an official inquiry into the Siev X tragedy. They claim that Indonesian and Australian authorities may have covered up information about why and how the boat sank.

Ian Rintoul from the Refugee Action Coalition in Sydney says an accurate picture of the Siev X sinking has yet to emerge.

"That is what needs to be investigated and it really has been a missed opportunity that so many of the Siev X survivors and relatives and people who had intimate details about the planning of that journey were not quizzed to find out what they actually knew about the Siev X itself - the details of the Siev X," he said.

Daoed was extradited to Australia from Sweden in May 2003.

He was acquitted of a charge of organizing the trafficking of 147 asylum seekers who arrived by boat on Australia's remote Indian Ocean territory of Christmas Island in 2001, the same year as the Siev X tragedy.

The Australian government says the flow of boat people traveling from Indonesia on often poorly maintained boats has been reduced to barely a trickle as a result of tough border control measures, including the mandatory detention of asylum seekers.

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